On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the US fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt immediately asked Congress for a declaration of war. Everyone knew that war with Japan also meant war on a second European front because of Japan’s treaties with Germany. North Dakota’s Senator Gerald P. Nye, an isolationist, had opposed efforts by the President to prepare for war or support war-torn Britain or France before the attack at Pearl Harbor. Nevertheless, Nye and the entire North Dakota delegation to Congress voted in favor of the declaration of war.
North Dakota’s young men enlisted or signed up for Selective Service. By the end of December 1941, more than 4,000 men had joined one branch of the military. By the end of the war, more than 46,000 North Dakotans were in uniform. Enlistments included young women who could join the newly formed military organizations for women such as the Women’s Army Corps. Back in North Dakota, the war coincided with improved climatic conditions bringing renewed prosperity to the state. Demand for wheat and cattle pushed commodity prices up and personal income nearly tripled during the war years.
The war changed in many ways the lives of the young men and women who entered military service and survived to return to North Dakota. Their experiences were challenging and the memories they carried with them as they returned to civilian life were a complex mix of pride, fear, duty, and bitterness. In the years following the war, they became fathers, agricultural producers, business leaders, teachers, doctors, and nurses.
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